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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ignore the cover picture, ignore the book jacket. This novel is not about South Africa’s apartheid-era “law governing the relationships between the races.” Rather, it is the story of an honorable man’s emotional and spiritual struggle with sin and weakness. It is a story about the virtue that humans can attain and the pride and pain that entangle us. Too Late the Phalarope, a work often overshadowed by its more famous counterpart, Cry the Beloved Country, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

First, Alan Paton’s writing is deceptively simple, yet betrays deep insight into human thoughts and feelings. His words sweep past the veils and maneuvers that people often use to conceal unworthy motives, revealing the fear and hunger that alternately lead us to both hide from and love each other. Yet Paton’s incisive methods are so gentle, so compassionate, that it is evident that he means the stripping away to also heal. It is charged with hidden emotion but not sentimental, sympathetic but not blind, clever but not smug. It is perfect.

Although some people try to make this book out to be a pointed statement against the injustice of apartheid, it’s not. It tells of a young Afrikaner policeman, Pieter van Vlaanderen, who is a giant among his people: renown rugby player, decorated war veteran, upstanding citizen, honest, kind, and authoritative. But he fights secretly against his own fallibility and corruption. He and his family are such a complex mix of pride, honor, Puritanism, restraint, reserve, and love that this struggle plays out painfully and tragically.

Title:Too Late the Phalarope
Author:Alan Paton
Date published:1953
Number of pages:284
Notes:At least the 5th reading


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